Instructables

Don't Do It Yourself: Start a Book Publishing Empire with Mechanical Turk

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So you want to start you own book publishing empire. But who is going to write those books? And who is going to draw the illustrations? Let others do it for you! The anonymous online masses are brimming with stories waiting to be told and images waiting to be drawn.

Here are instructions on how to publish a fully illustrated coffee table book by collecting text and images with Amazon's Mechanical Turk, then printing the book on demand with Blurb.com. This instructable covers how to source, edit, layout, print and promote a book that is written and illustrated by others, for you.

 
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Step 1: Brainstorm topics

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How do you get other people to write and illustrate for you? Paying them helps. But you don't want to invest a fortune. The trick is to pay people a little for stories they want to tell anyways. They feel good for sharing their stories, you feel even better because you get content for your book.

First brainstorm some topics that people want to write about. My wife Tania suggested to make a book about pets. Specifically, cats. Every cat owner loves to tell you about how fluffy Zooey is, how cute it is when Gary drinks out of the sink, how amazing Socks' toilet flush trick is, etc.

In addition to thinking about topics for stories, also think about good visuals. Asking people to draw paper clips is unlikely to result in a lot of interesting submissions. If you ask them to draw a cutaway view of a combustion engine, they'll say no because that's too complicated. Babies, pets, stuffed animals, favorite places - keep it simple but emotionally rich.


baudeagle1 year ago
bpunkt, It has been over four years since you have made this book. Please update us on how everything turned out. Would you make this again? Has it been profitable? Thanks,

suziwollman6 years ago
How does www.blurb.com compare to www.lulu.com? I've used lulu a bit and am really happy with it, but haven't done enough to know what's best.
lolcat3606 years ago
My dad now thinks everything has a virus, so I'm just wondering if it does. Please reply ASAP.
superlox36 years ago
Thank you So much for this instrucable! I'm not really planning on Turking it for content, but thanks to you I've found Blurb; which I think is a great way to publish a book online to sell! Thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou!
raggyrat6 years ago
thanks for this - i have only just been looking at blurb.com via flickr, and up pops your instructable, nice to get another veiw and some tips on promoting ... did you get the 7by7 book ? xxx
bpunkt (author)  raggyrat6 years ago
Yes, it's a 7x7 coffee table book.
rawoo16 years ago
What about the issue of obtaining permission to use their material for your publication? Do you obtain consent? Thanks
bpunkt (author)  rawoo16 years ago
IANAL, but it is my understanding that, by the standard contract, work that turkers perform for you is "work for hire." The requester owns the rights to the work afterwards. Being explicit about that fact in your task description is probably a good idea though.
killerdark6 years ago
Cool idea. I'm a bit worried about MTurks that take a shortcut and start copying from copyrighted works though.
bpunkt (author)  killerdark6 years ago
jhaas: I believe the danger of running into copy-and-paste problems can be mitigated by 1) phrasing your task to emphasize that you want personal experiences. 2) doing a sanity-check after submission. For the cat book, I discarded any image that looked like it could have been scanned in or taken from a different context. Overall, this has not been a big problem. People want to tell their stories - you just have to ask nicely.
They don't get paid unless you approve it, as I recall. Even if you don't, they don't know that ;-)
jdege6 years ago
I guess I'm an old fart. I'm writing my book in LaTeX. (But then, I need index, glossary, bibliography, figures, tables, lists of figures, lists of tables, embedded mathematical formulae, etc,) I won't claim an extraordinary expertise, but I've found that the simpler products only work well with the simpler projects. If you're producing something of complexity, you need something like TeX or FrameMaker.
bpunkt (author)  jdege6 years ago
jdege: I think it's mostly about picking the right tool for the right job. When I do layout for our design magazine Ambidextrous I of course work in a professional tool like InDesign. But for a coffee table book like the one I described here, lack of options in the layout software is actually desirable for me, because I stay focused on the big point and don't get lost in details.

Video editing is another great example: If you're making a feature-length movie, you'll probably want a professional package like FinalCutPro. However, if you're putting together a quick prototype or a short instructional video, something less featureful (iMovie, Camtasia Studio) will likely suffice and be much faster.

Each tool brings with it its own work style. I like to find a good match between that style and the task at hand.
Nice suggestions here - I have completed books and workbooks using both self-publishing and the normal publishing-house method - self-publishing is definitely growing in popularity, but you've got to really hit on a major topic to compete with the $5000, $8000, and $12000 advances offered these days for non-fiction titles. It can be done (one of my self-published workbooks has sold around 500 copies at a $9 markup ($4500 profit) but that's only after 2 years of selling - you've got to have patience). I'll have to keep your Turk suggestion in mind for future work ideas... thanks!
Hey jktechwriter...how did you go about self publishing your workbooks..my wife has one she finally finished and has been looking for a way to do it, but there are so many out there to work with and such, she doesn't know where to start..so I thought of looking on here to see what I can find out for her..how did you go about your self published on that sold 500 copies - feel free to contact me directly if you can. Thanks.